Our Voice: Mid-Columbia never should take firefighters for granted

The Tri-Cities' calm and pleasant start to summer was frighteningly interrupted Tuesday when two brush fires burned through south Kennewick and Finley, forcing evacuations and the closure of roads and a portion of the nearby interstate.

It was an anxiety-filled situation for residents who fled their homes, but thanks to the tremendous organization of fire crews, nobody lost their houses or livestock.

A quick response and teamwork were key in battling both blazes.

Firefighters know it's their job to contain brush fires and save property and lives. But to the rest of the community, their efforts mean so much more. Do their job well, the day is saved. Do it poorly, the day ends in disaster.

The Mid-Columbia is fortunate to have firefighters -- mostly volunteers -- who do their jobs quickly, bravely and efficiently.

It took 38 fire trucks and 130 to 140 firefighters to contain Tuesday's fires. Every Tri-City agency was involved, as well as crews from Yakima and Walla Walla.

The fire in south Kennewick burned about 1,000 acres, but firefighters saved 52 homes with the only fire damage reported to fences and a porch. Many houses had smoke damage.

The Finley fire started shortly after the smoke began to clear from the Kennewick blaze, leaving hot and tired crews to go from one fire fight to another.

It was a high-performance day, that's for sure.

In addition to the great effort by the fire crews, the Benton-Franklin chapter of the American Red Cross also stepped up like a flash and was ready to help. A temporary shelter was opened at Highlands Middle School for people displaced by the blaze and arrangements were made quickly with the Benton County Fairgrounds to take in any large animals that might need a place to stay.

No animals ended up at the facility, but it's still good to know they had a place to go if needed. Currently, the Tri-Cities has no formal contingency plan to rescue and handle displaced livestock in case of fire or other emergencies.

It probably would be a good idea to come up with one.

Tri-City area residents have been lucky so far that fires have not claimed livestock in recent memory, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Getting a plan together on how to handle horses, goats, cows and other animals caught in the path of a brush fire would be a prudent step. Other communities have such plans in place. The Tri-Cities should as well.

Summer is fire season in the Mid-Columbia, and anything that can be done to prevent and prepare for brush fires is worth the effort.

It's suspected the Finley fire was started by a spark from a train, while a model rocket is believed to have caused the south Kennewick blaze.

With winds up to 30 mph Tuesday, the conditions were set to spread a blaze swiftly through the dry brush.

This first big brush fire of the season should serve as a warning to people that the tiniest spark can ignite an out-of-control fire.

The Tri-Cities was fortunate this time that damage was minimal. Let's not push our luck.